Whether you are designing your own book in Adobe InDesign or hiring someone else to do so, understanding book design and layout terms can be important. InDesign, for example, will ask you what you want to set your trim or margin size when you start a new design. Then, if you want to find your own printer, you’ll need to understand what they mean when they ask for your trim; if you want bleeds; and, if all the images are CMYK, grayscale, or if you want to use spot color.

I’m not going to get into all the typography language because that would be a topic for another (larger) post. I will be coming up with posts explaining how to apply these terms to your book design and layout.

Here is a list of the top book design and layout terms grouped by category to help you get started.

Color Terminology

Color Space. The color space is the range of colors that will be represented in an image or in a publication. A printer, for example, will print in the CMYK (4-color) or grayscale (1-color) range while online/digital publications use an RGB (3-color) range. Some printers use spot color, which is where a process color (usually one) is printed using a single run.

In PhotoShop, go to Image > Mode to change your color space. CMYK for print, RGB for digital.

In PhotoShop, go to Image > Mode to change your color space. CMYK for print, RGB for digital.

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) — for Print. When you are choosing colors to use in your book, you want to use either grayscale or CMYK. Printers use color combinations of the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to make the colors for printing. They often won’t move on to the printing stage if you send them RGB colors. CMYK is used only for print. Go into Adobe Photoshop and click on Image > Mode > CMYK to change it for print.

RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) — for Screen or Online. Where CMYK is for print, RGB is used for screen displays and digital formats. The screen creates colors through a combination of red, green, and blue pixels. A trick is to try and view a JPEG through a web browser. If it loads, it’s probably RGB, but if it gives you a red x, it’s probably CMYK and needs to be changed. Go into Adobe Photoshop and click on Image > Mode > RGB to change it for print.

Grayscale. If you are going to be printing your book in black and white, you want to convert your images to grayscale. Why not make everything black with a CMYK? Because it will be a rich black and they will charge you. The color space for black and white graphic images. For book interiors intended to be printed only in black, all graphics should be grayscale. Go into Adobe Photoshop and click on Image > Mode > Grayscale to change it for print.

Black. The color black can be tricky. It’s just…black, right? Well, not in the printing world. In InDesign, the default [Black] is what we call 100% black, also known as a flat black. In CMYK terms, it is 0,0,0,100. If you are sending a black and white book, this is the color that you want. Another form of black is a “rich black,” which has a deeper hue of all four colors of ink (think something like 100,100,100,100). If the book is being printed in color, then you can use this form. However, if you are trying to save money by printing in black and white or grayscale, stick with the default black.

Spot Color. Most printers don’t use spot color as much anymore due to digital printing advancements but in offset printing, it was usually when a solid color in any color was added by an ink used in a single run. In other words, one color layer was applied at a time. You often saw this in old yearbooks where the headline might be a bright green while the rest of the page was in black and white. When using spot colors these days, most of the inks are chosen on the Pantone Color Matching System (or PMS colors). You can find a whole list in InDesign by going to Swatches, adding a new color swatch, and going down to Pantone. It’s mainly used in brochures, stickers and other small items so if you are printing a book, it isn’t as much of an issue these days.

Layout Terms

Bleed. When an image or text is intended to run off the edges of a printed page, leaving behind no white margin, it is said to “bleed” off the page. Think of it as the ink is “bleeding” or running off the page. Printers have their own set guidelines for how much the image must extend past the edge (“has to bleed”), so ask what their default guideline is. Most of the time it is a minimum of 0.125” on each side. In InDesign, you can still set your document as 8.5” x 11” and then set what your bleed is. InDesign will put in a red line to help you know what to bleed the image to. You can set up a document to the larger (8.75” x 11.25”) but that could add potential complications.

Blind folio. A blind folio is when a page has been assigned a page number, but it is not printed on the page itself. In magazine publications, for example, an advertisement is assigned to a page, but the ad will not have the page number printed. Some internal front or back pages (especially on books that run short of pages) will be set up with no page number.

Crop marks. Crop marks are lines on the artwork intended to show where the reproductions should be cut to achieve the final trim size. This isn’t something you normally do in InDesign itself on the layout. However, when you get ready to export your files, you are given the option to add the crop-marks. They are often added to advertisements sent to a magazine to show the graphic artists how to position the ad on the page.

DPI. The dots per inch (DPI) is the amount of information contained within an image. For print, images are usually required to be at least 300 DPI so that they will not print pixelated/fuzzy. For online/digital images, 72 DPI or 92 DPI is standard for faster loading.

Double truck. A double truck refers to a pair of facing pages in a book or magazine that extends over two pages and across the gutter. Open any number of popular magazines and find one with an image that goes across both pages with text in columns beneath it. There’s an example of a double truck photo spread.

Folio. A folio is a fancy way of saying page numbers. Page numbers at the bottom are referred to as drop folio, etc. However, don’t let that worry you too much. Printers these days will ask how many pages your book has, so you don’t have to get too worked up about the different parts. You’ll want to usually add your page numbers in the master pages of the InDesign layout rather than placing them one by one or pasting an area on each page.

Gutter, margin. Margins are the blank spaces around the type area on a book page. When doing any layout, your safest bet for copy is a minimum margin of 0.5.” The space between columns on a page with multiple columns is called a gutter. With printing, it is also the margin on the bound edge of the book page. When you are looking at an open book, the middle part where you have two gutters together. You want to ensure that you don’t have the copy (even headlines) going into this space or it might disappear as the book is folded together. Having a set margin will help with that.

Layout. Referred to as page layout, it is the arrangement of text and visual elements on a page.

Leafs, pages, and spreads. These terms are used more for printed material than digital.

A leaf is a single sheet of paper with two sides. A page is one side of a leaf (used for ads, etc.). A spread uses two pages, side by side.

A leaf is a sheet of paper, both front, and back. A leaf may contain two pages

A page is one side of the leaf of paper. A single-page flyer, for example, takes up ½ of the leaf.

The spread is two facing pages, usually an even-numbered page beside an odd-numbered page. In the magazine world, when you see the first two pages of an article with the image overlapping both pages, it is called a spread layout. (Woe betide you if you try to split that up, even during pagination).

Most eBooks do not use spreads, but rather single pages. Exceptions occur with eBooks that are meant to be read on a table like the iPad; these have no problems with spreads. Kindle books and EPUBs generally do not use spreads so if you are converting a print book to a Kindle version, you need to keep that in mind.

Pagination. Speaking of page numbers, pagination is when you divide a document into pages and assign a page number. With books, it is fairly simple. You start at page 1 and go to the end. With magazines, it gets more complicated as you must determine which articles can start on the left- or right-hand side and which ones are spreads (or the graphic designer will get very cranky #experience). I’ll go into details in a later post.

Running head/running feet. This is simply the page elements that show the reader where they are in the book. These elements often include the chapter title, author name, subject heading, page title, and/or folio (just not all together, yikes!). If the information is at the top of the page (see most fiction books), then they are called a running head. If they are at the bottom of the page (common with non-fiction), they are called running feet.

Safe area. This area is far away enough from the trim or gutter edges to be considered “safe” when printing. Margins help with this area. You wouldn’t want your headline to go near the edge of a page as it might either be cut off during the printing process (on one side) or get crunched in the gutter-fold of the page in the middle. Printers generally give you what the “safe area” is, as it can vary by their equipment. Your best bet is to always have no less than .5” of a margin all the way around, even for headings.

Trim size. The term trim size is used to describe the dimensions of your printed book. For example, a 6” x 9” book is its trim size. The reason behind this is that books are printed on large sheets which are then folded into signatures. These signatures are then gathered to create the book block. That block is then trimmed on the top, bottom, and the opening side. After all the trimming is done, you have the final size of the book. Here are some of the common trim sizes.

  • Mass Market books (mostly fiction) — 4 ¼” x 7”
  • Trade paperback — Anywhere from 5 ½ x 8 ½ to 6” x 9”
  • General nonfiction — 6” x 9” to 7” x 10”
  • Manuals, Workbooks, some Magazines — 7” x 9” to 8.5” x 11”
  • Books or Magazines — 8.25” x 10.875” to 8 ½” x 11”
  • Coffee table books — 13” x 11” to 14” x 11”

Typography Terms

Ascender/descender—Ascenders is the portion of a letter (like “h” or “t”) that extends slightly above the baseline or mean lien of a font. Conversely, the descenders are parts of letters that extend below the baseline as in the “tail” of the letters “y” “g” or “p”.

Baseline. The baseline is the imaginary line on which the type itself rests. In most typefaces, the descenders on characters such as “g” or “p” will extend down below the baseline and curved letters such as “c” or “o” will extend over the baseline.

Bullet. A bullet is a character that is used to bring emphasis to items, especially in lists.

Justification. Justification in typesetting is used to describe how the left and right edges of a block of type are arranged. For example, the Flush left type is even on the left margin and ragged on the right edge as a standard amount of space is used between each word and lines may not extend to the end of the column. Flush right is the opposite. Most books are Justified, which varies the amount of space between words (and sometimes between letters) to create straight margins on both the left and right sides of a block of type. Magazines or newspapers with narrow columns often use ragged right (or the standard left-aligned) to help prevent weird gaps between words.

Kerning. Kerning is the adjustment spacing between individual characters. This is to make the spacing between the letters in words feel more natural.

Leading. Leading is the measurement of space between the baselines of type. Adjusting can help to save space or adjust space on a page. It’s often used for headlines than body copy because too much adjustment can make the copy hard to read.

Ligature. This term is where two or more letters are carefully joined together to avoid awkward inter-letter spacing issues. Some ligatures represent specific sounds or words such as the AE or æ. Other times it is used to ensure that the characters are easy to read. For example, letters with “fi” and “fl” could, with the wrong font, look like an A.

Pica, point. A pica or point is the printer’s standard unit of measure for typography. These days, the layouts are primarily done in inches, so the picas are defined by that. For example, the pica is now standardized as one-sixth of an inch.

There are 12 points in every pica and one pica is 1/6 of an inch. They used to be used for layout but these days most printers go by inches (like some magazines print in 8.25 x 10.875). When it comes to font point size, the point is used to describe the type size and leading. For example, our magazine used to use 11-point Arno Pro on 14 points leading.

The curvier strokes on the edge of the font (in the P) indicate that it is a Serif font. Note the one on the right does not have the flourishes.

The curvier strokes on the edge of the font (in the P) indicate that it is a Serif font. Note the one on the right does not have the flourishes.

Serif and sans serif. When selecting a typeface for the printer, there are two types of fonts that depend on the finishing strokes of the letters.

  • Serif fonts have the flourishes like the old quill scribbles and are often used with increasing the readability with long passages of text. Garamond is an example of a Serif font.
  • Sans serif (without serif) are used primarily for shorter text settings, such as headlines, captions, credits, column headings. Arial is an example of a Sans Serif. Arial can be harder to read in long articles or books, but it does stand out easily as a short divider.

Tracking. Tracking is like kerning, but it is the space between groups of letters rather than individual letters. Looser tracking is often used for the smaller type or typeset in smaller caps. It’s often used in headlines. Tracking can be used to make liens of type even (tighter or looser) to help remove hyphenation or widows and orphans from paragraphs.

Widow/orphan control. During layout, your copy should be balanced. A widow is when you have one word or a few characters at the end of a paragraph or column. It’s considered bad because it leaves too much white space. An orphan is where a word or a few characters of a word are left at the beginning of a column or page. It also results in poor horizontal alignment at the top of the column or page and leaves too much empty white space. The first or last line of a paragraph left at the bottom or stranded at the top of a page usually considered an aesthetic defect in better typography.

Printing Terms

Book block. A book block is the collection of pages after the individual signatures have been folded together but are not yet bound with a cover. It is the book without the cover.

Bulking. Bulking is the measurement of the paper thickness expressed as how many pages it will take to equal one inch. For example, “360 ppi” means that it is 360 pages per inch. This is often tied to what size pound (#) of paper that you use. A paper like what is used in a copy machine, for example, will have a higher ppi than the heavier 80# glossy papers used in higher-quality books.

Casebound. A case bound book, often called a hardcover book or edition bound book, is created by manufacturing a case from binder’s board and a covering such as cloth, leather or paper. The covers are then wrapped with the case in the bindery.

Imposition. In the old offset printing, books were printed on signatures that were then folded several times and then assembled and trimmed on the outside edges. The arrangement of pages on these large sheets so that once the printed signature sheets are folded and trimmed, the pages appear in the correct order.

Paper Scoring. Scoring refers to the process of making a crease in the paper so that till wolf easier. It’s a ridge that is indented into the paper where the fold line has occurred. If you have ever printed out an 11” x 17” sheet of paper and divided it into sections (for small booklets), it would be like a similar process. It’s generally used by printers prior to folding the heavyweight papers, such as for covers, cardstock, and cardboard.

Paper Weight. The term paperweight refers to the thickness and sturdiness of the paper being used (not the weight of the paper itself). For example, copy paper is typically referred to as 20 lb. bond/50 lb. text and is lightweight. It sounds fine but sometimes text and images can “bleed” through to the other side, so it can be too light for printing books. An 80 lb. cover stock is a heavy cardstock, mostly used in business cards. Flat cards or invitations often use 100 lb. cover cardstock. You might think thicker is always better, but books generally get heavy and bulky if you try to use a heavier cardstock (whereas 32 lb. bond/80lb text is excellent for 2-sided printing with minimum bleed through).

  • Rule of thumb, the more images you have in your book, the heavier the paper needs to be.
  • Textbooks with photos are better with a 32 lb. bond/80lb text paper.
  • Text-heavy books (think romance novels/fiction novels/novellas) with no internal images are often great with 24 lb. bond/60 lb. text or even a slightly higher 28 lb. bond/70 lb. text.

Signatures. Pages of books are commonly printed on large sheets of paper known as signatures, with multiple pages printed on each side of the sheets. These sheets are then folded down and trimmed after they are printed. Most signatures are done sets of 8, 12, and 24, so when you are figuring out a page count, try to get the number of pages eventually divided by 8. Why? It will save you money and the printer aggravation. With digital printing, some are allowing for a signature divisible by four, so ask your printer which one would be best.

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